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I attended a UX meetup today, the speaker was pointing out that UX is all about transforming an opinion based design to fact based. I really don't understand what is opinion and fact based development.

Example he gave was,

To test the users experience we can build a fake feature and by getting opinions from variety of users.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

While I'd mostly agree with the 2 previous answers, here's my take on it.

The term “user experience” was coined by Dr. Donald Norman, a cognitive science researcher who was also the first to describe the importance of user-centered design (the notion that design decisions should be based on the needs and wants of users).

As Jacob Nielsen and Don Norman defined it:

The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother.

To quote the same SmashingMagazine article:

We (UX designers) made design decisions based on just two things: what we thought was awesome and what the client wanted to see.

We built interaction based on what we thought worked — we designed for ourselves. ... There was no science behind what we did. We did it because the results looked good, because they were creative (so we thought) and because that was what our clients wanted.

This is what I'd call "Opinion-based design". It is basically you sitting there (ideally with some user observation or market data), making your best guess about what the user's model is and try to match it with your design.

UX Designers forming an opinion-based design

The problem is the reality is just much more complex and rich than what UX designers could have expected. How can we be sure that our design really delivers what the users really need? How does our opinion-based design face against the reality?

There's only one way to figure it out: Trying to get some facts! How?

Running user testing Unexpected user results

One way is running A/B, usability testing, conducting user experiments, collecting statistics, gathering usage data (e.g. number of clicks, task completion time, conversion rates, which feature is used, more or less than which feature, etc.). They are some of the "objective" (called "quantitative") methods (trying to collect hard numbers).

The other way is more "subjective" ("qualitative") with user interviews, focus group, surveys where we ask users to report what they thought or think. Even though it's commonly known that the users don't really know what they want or feel, their self-reported data are still a valid measure to take into account.

This is what I'd call "Fact-based analysis". Both methods basically give UX designers some facts to analyze, and rely upon to further iterate the design, and make them better, the so-called "Fact-based design".

We use opinions to create a design, gather facts about the design in the real-world, then use these facts to form some other opinions, then iterate. And on goes the circle.

Iterative design

Hope it helps.

PS: UX is a relatively new field, at least compared to many other disciplines. Consequently, its definition is still very much open for discussion, refinement and even debate. And everybody is kind of having his or her own view on what UX really is, its ultimate goals (e.g. satisfying users/ increasing usability, efficiency, ease of use, etc.), what it measures (from concrete, objective measures e.g. task completion time, to more subjective measures such as user perception or feelings, etc.), its scope (how it relates and whether it includes/spans/crosses the other fields such as HCI, usability, design, cognitive psychology, accessibility, etc.), where its root was, so on and so forth.

So in short, even the definition of UX you heard in the meet-up is still up for discussion :) I'd say that UX is about the full circle between opinion and facts, not just one-way transformation

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My guess is that a lot of UX begins as opinions. So the goal is turn that into something more than just an opinion through testing/experimentation.

Opinion based: I think people ignore banner ads.

Fact based: Testing has shown banner ads are consistently ignored by users, verified by both click rates, and by eye tracking software.

Given that you will get lots of different opinions within a brainstorming meeting, especially depending on which department those opinions are coming from, it's good to have something more than your own feelings to verify the best way to go about tackling a problem.

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Google is famous for using data to justify their UX decisions. –  200_success Jun 19 at 19:18

Thing is, there is no such thing as a solely opinion-driven development, or solely fact-driven development.

Example. To start developing a feature, we are analysing data that we have (for example, weak conversion rate where one specific CTA is a bottleneck), and this is a fact-based process. Then we are building hypothesis on top of that data (will position change of CTA help?), and this is an opinion-based process. Then we are testing our hypothesis on users, and they provide us with some data (yes, the change of CTA positioning does help, but not significantly), and here we are with facts again. And then we need to interpret this data and come up with some kind of decision, and this is an opinion-based process.
The whole process of design or development as a creative analytical-synthetic process is based on intertwining sequence of opinion-based and fact-based decisions. Good balance of those makes good UX.

So that thesis statement about "UX is all about transforming an opinion based design to fact based" seems unrealistic (or weirdly formulated) to me. What UX really does in my opinion, is it brings data into design process. But that doesn't mean opinion-based decisions are excluded from the design-process.

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You said that they're gathering opinions from users. So there's something else he could be driving at.

The opinions from end users are helpful of course. But sometimes the success of a UX is best measured by actual statistics, conversion rates, etc and not opinions. The thing is, often times the users can't even tell you what they really want. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's talk, "Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce". Malcolm says, "The mind knows not what the tongue wants."

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